In her new book Still Standing: The Untold Story of My Fight Against Gossip, Hate, and Political Attacks, former Miss California Carrie Prejean does more than provide a behind-the-scenes look at her life and the media controversy over her response to a question about same-sex marriage.
Prejean also makes a point important to the future of the conservative movement: that while they demand tolerance in others, the gay activist community is anything but tolerant of those who don’t share their views or support their political agenda.
The book opens with the pageant for Miss USA 2009, and Prejean describes her churning stomach and practiced smile as she crossed the stage to draw the name of her final judge out of a glass bowl. It was her bad luck to draw the name of gay blogger and activist Perez Hilton.
Hilton asked her what has now become an infamous question: Should every state legalize same-sex marriage, why or why not? “I have never felt more exposed, alone, and vulnerable in my life,” says Prejean.
Her response is now immortalized on YouTube and in news archives nationwide. “Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” said Prejean. “We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised, and that’s how I believe that it should be — between a man and a woman.”
Watching the clip on YouTube, it is impossible to tell what is going on in Prejean’s head as she gives an answer that somehow blends a decisive tone and beauty-queen smile with the setting — inappropriate for the highly-politicized question — and her treatment of the subject matter.
In the book, however, Prejean explains her thinking process as she gave her answer. She writes that in the immediate backlash, which left her exiled from the after-party and confused, she went to YouTube to watch the clip herself in order to make certain she agreed with what she had said. She did.
The real story of the book, then, is how Prejean chose to defend her response — and her right to make it — despite a barrage of lies, often nasty media attention, and even legal threats. Standing behind an unpopular answer is a quality that Prejean is happy to attribute to many members of the conservative movement.
Prejean has embraced her role as a symbol of the conservative movement. She characterizes her story as “one roadside accident” in the larger battle to protect the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and religion. She says in the book that she is not looking for a “platform to talk about gay marriage,” but that she is willing to fight for her right to disagree with it, because she does.
In a press conference at which Donald Trump assured the press that she would remain Miss California (a promise broken soon after), Prejean said, “On April 19 on that stage I exercised my freedom of speech, and I was punished for doing so. This should not happen in America. It undermines the constitutional rights that my grandfather fought for.” She dedicates a chapter in her book to the raging battle over freedom of speech, specifically as it overlaps with the battle for gay rights.
The conservative movement, of course, accepts Christian values as an acceptable motivation, and Prejean refers to her faith throughout the book. She also reminds readers of her sex and her age — only 21 and still a college student at the time of the pageant — and that she made a particularly vulnerable target. Although her feisty personality and determination to have her own voice comes through in the book as she talks about the decisions she made and her attitude as she confronted people like Trump, Prejean makes a telling point when she wonders why her attackers considered her an appropriate target of a hate campaign: “Somehow the liberal media can get away with these degrading, disgusting jokes about a conservative woman, while still touting themselves as open-minded and tolerant,” she writes, citing Sarah Palin (who once called to encourage her) as another example.
Finally, Prejean encourages other young women to stand up for their own conservative values. She sets herself up as an example — a dangerous role, but one that Prejean seems to survive if not even thrive in — of a conservative, Christian woman who has survived pressure, gossip, notoriety, and lies in exchange for the satisfaction of standing up for her rights, and the rights of others who share her beliefs.
The book is well-written, and Prejean’s story is compelling. Readers, especially young women, might conclude the book feeling a little less afraid of facing tough questions and not being politically correct. Prejean is too young and the events of her book too fresh for her to write about them with complete self-awareness.
It should inspire most readers to consider themselves lucky for the privilege of gradually developing an understanding of their beliefs — through a natural process of maturation — and escaping Prejean’s very public trial by fire.